PAKISTAN: Celebrating Successful stories from the IFAD funded AJK


Pakistan:

Successful stories from the IFAD funded

AJK Community Development Program (AJK CDP)

Kashmir Women Taking Action!

Women in Kashmir suffer silently, Showkat A. Motta, OneWorld South Asia


Women have borne the brunt of violence in the two decades of conflict in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – raped, tortured, maimed and killed. Several studies have shown how uncaring authorities and societal norms have multiplied their woes.

Srinagar: Month of April brings back painful memories for human rights defenders in Kashmir, reminding them of challenges of working in a conflict zone.

It was on April 20, 2004 when Kashmir’s first woman human rights activist, Aasia Jeelani, gave her life to uphold the cause of truth and justice.

Aasia, 30, was killed when a taxicab carrying her and other activist colleagues from Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) was blown up after it ran over a landmine in Chandigam village in northern Kupwara district.

The team had gone to the frontier village to verify reports of people fleeing out of fear of coercion by soldiers during Parliamentary elections.

Also killed was driver of the taxicab, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, while JKCCS’s senior member Khurram Parvez, (then 26), received serious injuries; his right limb was amputated later. Three more JKCCS volunteers, including one from south Indian state of Karnataka, also sustained injuries in the blast blamed on suspected militants.

Aasia’s painful death shocked the activists and families of victims of rights abuses in the Valley. She had been the first woman to take up the mantle of human rights.

Valley of wails

Women in Kashmir have suffered enormously since the separatist struggle became violent in 1989-90. Like the women in other conflict zones, they have been raped, tortured, maimed and killed. A few of them were even jailed for years together.

According to a study by the Medecins Sans Frontieres, Kashmiri women are among the worst sufferers of sexual violence in the world. “Sexual violence has been routinely perpetrated on Kashmiri women, with 11.6% of respondents saying they were victims of sexual abuse,” says the 2005 study, adding that the figure is much higher than that of Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Chechnya.

A study by Kashmir University’s Department of Sociology in 2002 revealed 90% of the estimated 10,000 Kashmiri war widows didn’t remarry despite provision of remarriage in Islam.

Surveys have shown that more Kashmiri women commit suicide than men. Says prominent sociologist Dr Bashir Ahmed Dabla: “Throughout the world, it’s found that suicide rates are highest among men and more intense in urban areas, but in the Valley the reverse is true.” He cited the raging conflict as the underlying factor.

Women constitute more than 60% of the patients visiting Kashmir’s lone psychiatry hospital in Srinagar for treatment, with most of them suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “And this is tip of an iceberg,” says Dr Arshad Hussain, a senior psychiatrist.

Dr Arshad said he believed hundreds of women didn’t turn up because of illiteracy and social taboos attached to the psychiatric hospitals. “They continue to suffer silently,” he told OneWorld South Asia.

There are also hundreds of ‘half-widows’ whose husbands disappeared in custody of Indian troops, leaving them to fend for themselves. In the absence of any help from the authorities who consistently deny charges of custodial disappearance, many of them assemble every month in a Srinagar park for a silent sit-in protest.

Justice denied

In Kashmir, it’s difficult for police to take action against erring soldiers because of impunity provided to them through draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

“I have been moving from pillar to post to locate my husband. Police have refused to entertain my report against the troops,” says 43-year-old Tahira Begum whose husband, a labourer, disappeared allegedly in the custody of Indian paramilitary force some 10 years ago.

The situation is worse for rape victims as the cases largely go unreported because of fear of social stigma, and of reprisal by official agencies.

Rape and its attendant politics of honour implicate state authorities that seek to suppress, discredit or publicly deny sexual violence against Kashmiri Muslim women,” says Seema Qazi, the author of recently released book: Between Democracy and Nation: Gender and Militarisation in Kashmir.

Seema cited many instances like the alleged gang-rape of nearly 30 women by soldiers of Rajputana Rifles at Konan-Poshpora (Kupwara) in February 1991. “(These) allegations were neither officially acknowledged nor investigated primarily because the offence is seldom registered by the local police,” she added.

Women’s group

Aasia was not ready to suffer silently. In an interview in Amsterdam some months before her death, she had said: “When you read newspaper in Kashmir, it’s full of reports about how many people were killed yesterday and how many women were raped or molested. You cannot be immune to all this suffering.”

She said she felt the need for a women’s group. In 2002, after completing her post-graduation in journalism, Aasia and her friends launched the Kashmiri Women’s Initiative for Peace and Disarmament (KWIPD). She became its first head.

Aasia single-handedly chronicled the miseries of Kashmiri women and children in The Voices Unheard, a quarterly newsletter of the KWIPD. The work took her to far-off places like Dardpora near the Line of Control in Kupwara. She later set up a tailoring centre in a tiny village that houses about 200 war widows and 300 orphans.

Aasia’s activist friends are, meanwhile, planning to observe her fifth death anniversary as a day of solidarity with the women who have suffered during the conflict in Kashmir.

There is always HOPE FOR CHANGE, as the following video will attest that Women are now Taking Action, and achieving positions of authority that will affect the future of all women in Pakistan’s region of the AJK. Bravo IFAD !

This video provides an overview of the achievements of the IFAD funded Community Development Program in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), Pakistan.

Through a series of interviews to the beneficiaries, the video shows concrete examples of how rural poor, particularly women, have benefited from the Program and successfully managed to improve their quality of life.


 

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